Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#15: Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)

on July 12, 2017

I first heard about J.D. Vance’s memoir while watching a news magazine interview. I was intrigued by the topic and the exploration of the Appalachian peoples. When I saw the full title, I knew I would have to read the work. It’s called Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

Much of Vance’s memoir is about his own troubled family and childhood. He was born to an addicted mother and his biological father was no where to be found. This began a constant revolving door of “father figures” into the lives of both him and his sister, Lindsey. As circumstances grew increasingly worse, Vance was finally cared for by his grandparents that he lovingly referred to as Mamaw and Papaw. Family members find themselves strained financially and have to follow the prospect of a stable job, leaving their home and family in rural Kentucky for the “greener pastures” of Middletown, Ohio.

Vance’s family are not the only ones to migrate to Ohio. He finds that the hillbilly culture that was finally escaped by leaving Kentucky has followed him to his new home. Surrounded by poverty and poor education, children are convinced that there is no hope for a better life. The situation constantly moves from desperate to hopeless. Yet somehow, J.D. manages to escape the cycle and attends both Ohio State and Yale Law.

Hillbilly Elegy is an honest glimpse into the lives of a large sector of the American society. While the book focuses on Kentucky hillbillies, I saw similarities to my own experience on each page. It truly became clear that Vance’s “culture in crisis” is not an overstatement of reality. The book should not be read by the timid. Vance’s use of vulgarity can be shocking at moments, but often is necessary in order to adequately convey the gravity of the situation. Neither should the book be read by those who think the problems addressed are solely due to the quality of the nation’s educational system or government involvement (or lack thereof). Vance clearly states that the enormous problem does not have a single cause that we can “fix” quickly. The solution lies within the mindset of the people that are most effected — and that is the greatest challenge to overcoming the cultural crisis we now face.

This memoir was certainly a departure from my normal reading fare. However, it is a work that caused me to think deeply about important issues facing America while exploring my own experiences with poverty, class warfare, and the overall sense of hopelessness that plagues much of rural America’s youth. Hillbilly Elegy is definitely a worthy read for all who care for the youth of America.

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